I came into “X-Men Forever” #13 expecting the worst. Amid reviews where even the most fervent of Chris Claremont supporters felt torn on the merits of the series, what hope did I have? It’s actually not that bad, though. It’s not great either, but, in this issue, Claremont delivers an issue packed with action, drama, and a few subplots. While it doesn’t feel like a comic from 2009, it’s still a solid read that engages the reader.
In this ‘what might have been’ Marvel Universe, a villain by the name of the Cossack has returned Illyana to her evil Black Magick state, leaving Colossus, his Winter Guard teammate/girlfriend Black Widow, Gambit, Kitty Pryde, and Lil’ ‘Ro (the recap page’s description of her is “an adolescent clone of Ororo Monroe?”) to return her to her human state. Except, to do so, they have go through the Cossack and his gang of werewolf thugs – and, even then, there’s the question of if Illyana wants to give up her powers. The fight with the Werewolf thugs is pretty standard stuff, but does begin with a funny moment from Gambit who mocks the gang, saying that they’re obviously no match for the superpowered heroes, at which point they show off their powers, shutting him up.
The dialogue and writing of this plot is overwrought, heavy on exposition, characters sharing every thought they have whether directly relevant to the present situation or not, and clashing with contemporary sensibilities. But, at the same time, for anyone that reads collections of older comics, it isn’t that difficult to simply think of it in those terms.
While that plot carries the issue, in the middle a trio of subplots get two or three pages each, and all are handled well. There’s a burgeoning romance between Jean Grey and Beast it seems, while a blind Sabretooth may be up to something, and Professor X works to cure mutantkind from extinction. None advance significantly, but they each move forward enough to justify their inclusion.
Tom Grummett’s art works with Claremont’s writing, giving the book a classic, retro look to go with the way it’s written. His work here is cluttered in places, showing that too much background detail can be just as distracting as too little. Grummett’s art is clear, though, particularly his facial expressions. It works within that idea that good comic art should stand on its own enough that you could take away the words and still follow the story, which Grummett’s work does here.
“X-Men Forever” is clearly for a specialized audience and it hits the right beats. It doesn’t match up with Claremont’s best “X-Men” work, but very little does. The freedom Claremont exercises here gives the book a feeling that anything can happen, allowing the cliffhanger to come out of nowhere and work well. A fine, solid read for those that miss comics like they used to be.